North Korea will have a nuclear-armed international continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S. “soon,” said the U.S.’ top military officer on Tuesday.
Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee that it was only a matter of “a very short time” before North Korea has a nuclear-capable ICBM. He believes the country currently poses the greatest, most urgent, threat to the United States.
He doesn’t think that will always be the case though. He expects China will be the greatest military threat by 2025.
Despite escalating rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea, Dunford said that there has been no change in the posture of North Korea’s military forces.
“We haven’t seen military activity that would be reflective of the charged political environment that we’re seeing.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s current pursuit of nuclear weapons is directly linked to his own survival as leader, Dunford told the committee. Although it doesn’t mean that South Korea and its neighbours aren’t at risk, North Korea’s weapons are “primarily associated with regime survival” and not for attacking South Korea or other nearby countries, according to intelligence reports he’s seen.
Even if North Korea were to fire at the U.S., he’s confident that the military could help.
“We can protect Hawaii today against an ICBM. We can protect the continental U.S. from an ICBM.”
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that North Korea’s leadership “won’t be around much longer.” North Korea’s top diplomat, Ri Yong Ho, argued Monday Trump’s tweet gives the reclusive nation the right to shoot down U.S. warplanes.
Dunford completes his first term at the end of September. The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding his confirmation hearing to give him another tour of duty.
-With files from Reuters and the Associated Press